Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

18th May, 2013

I got word yesterday that the design department at Simon & Schuster is having a hell of a time trying coming up with a cover for my book. My editor tells me she sent back a whole batch of proposals this week (no doubt sporting some hairy hero in a short kilt!)  To my surprise she is asking me for help. I don't think they want me to get out my water colours just yet, but they want me to send some links for sites that might give them some sense for the mood of my book. See, if they had kept my title "Dunadd," the designers would have been able to google it and come up with all kinds of images. But, since I had been told this was completely out of my court, I haven't been thinking about it for myself. My agent and I had decided that the cover for "The Time Traveller's Wife," was really good, (the lower half of a schoolgirl standing next to a man-size pair of shoes) but it reflects the story's location in modern times.  Mine needs to conjur the misty past, and there are no clothes left behind in my story. Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander," has an (imagined) gold Scottish emblem on its cover, which is actually quite effective. Anyway, all of this has to be resolved very quickly, because the postcards I am supposed to be getting for flogging my book this summer at the writer's conference are due within the month. Tally Ho! All fun.
Not all fun, say the readers of Dan Brown's new book "Inferno," which came out this week. "Abandon hope all ye who enter here," says one commentator. "This book reads like a travel brochure," says another. "Twaddle," says a newspaper in Britain, "but entertaining twaddle."
This week I have been re-reading "The Da Vinci Code," and what occurs to me about the importance of this book is that, like "Harry Potter," it goes way beyond its literary merits. The point is, when your ten-year old novel is already on the list of best selling books of all time, you have to answer to no one. The answer to their popularity obviously lies somewhere else. 
I harp on a lot about Zeitgeist, one of those wonderful German words which scoops up two ideas into one and creates something else. The meaning of Zeitgeist conveys a reality that most of us most of the time don't even think about: that nebulous throbbing wave of collective knowledge, rather like Cloud on the ether. I am quite sure neither JK Rowling nor Dan Brown paces across their office trying to get in touch with it. But somehow both of them are listening at the right frequency, and both books reflect an incredible thirst in our age for the kind of magic and mystery that was quickly stifled by the church and then double by our "enlightened" quest for the purely rational.
To my mind, Homo Sapiens should have been called Homo Religiosus, and I don't mean people standing to sing hymns in cloisters. I mean the longing that a skyful of stars can invoke. The shooting star that creates awe in even the hardest most scientific breast doesn't even want a rational explanation. It wants JK Rowling and Dan Brown to hand them a broomstick; it wants to get up there itself. And that's why these books sell. They are broomsticks, so no wonder they have the religious right shouting bloody murder.
Literature is enormously powerful. It is what Herman Hesse considered all of art: "The universalising mirror." You can burn the books, but you can't smash the mirror. I'm not sure the qualities of holographs were as well known in Hesse's time, but that universalising mirror  actually functions more like a holograph. You can't burn it; you can't smash it, because every little piece goes on reflecting the whole.
I am enough of a literary snob myself, not to join in the voices denigrating shoddily written prose like Brown's. Creating a sense of place is not about copying travel brochures into your pages. Extraneaous material has to come under the chop of  "killing your darlings" (whoever said that first. Let's say Shakespeare. He should have said it.) But understand we are not talking about words and pretty sentences here. When all is said and done, I can let the book fall with the rest of them and hold out my hands for the broomstick!

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